Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 13: Sue Storm

Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 13: Sue Storm. Oh hell... make that Sue "Hell yeah Mother-fucking" Storm. The woman has gone through enough hell and proved herself the strongest willed member of the FF, so she deserves the respect.

 

Here they are, the Fantastic Four. Five years ago, Sue Storm would not have made this list of mine. She was a secondary character. Suited for no more than background moments. Then I was offered a chance to write Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four, and had to really think about writing her character, and I asked Jeff Parker (a good friend, and a BRILLIANT writer) for advice and he said, "Well, of course you know she's the clear leader of the group." And that was silly. BUT... it was only silly for about thirty seconds, and then it was OBVIOUS. Sue is the one who holds them together. Sue is the one who has the perspective, the ENTIRE perspective, that the others lack. Sue has the brains, the powers, the will to surivive, and the determination to do what needs to be done. She is Sue Storm, and she's pretty, and she's nice, and she will cut you.

I think that I'd always, in the past, been envisioning THIS Sue Storm. It's the Sue Storm that I grew up with, reading stacks of old comics... the Sue Storm that served cookies after the men saved the world, and the Storm that was more concerned with Johnny leaving his dirty socks all over the house than she was with how Doctor Doom had just wiped out a platoon of NATO soldiers. The Sue, in other words, that Reed was either protecting or brusquely ordering to do some safe and feminine task.

In not long, though, my entire idea of the character had changed. Again, this was largely due to that simple sentence that Jeff Parker had told me. SUE IS THE ONE IN CHARGE. Of course she is. So, whenever I write Sue, THIS is the image that I drop into the scripts, with a note of, "THIS is the Sue that we're talking about." Sue Storm of the front lines. The bad ass. Also... I began to think of how incredibly potent her powers were for OFFENSE, not just defense. That changed her, too.

THIS version of Sue Storm no longer exists in my head.

THIS is who she is to me now. This is a piece of art from when, in the Marvel Adventures universe, she was in charge of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, both. Because that's how she rolls. Her years of taking care of Reed, Ben and Johnny have transformed her into a woman who just plain TAKES CARE OF THAT SHIT, whatever that shit may be.

This is from another time that I worked with the character of Sue Storm. Maybe my favorite time, in many ways, because I was able to have fun with the character and, as many of you know, I like Colleen Coover's art so much that I went ahead and married her.

Sue's first appearance, and the launch of the Marvel Age of comics. I have a copy of this comic and the first time I sat down to read it I was chomping on a sandwich and thinking, "Yeah, here's the part where the cosmic rays are hitting them, and now they're transforming, etc, etc." I've read the story a million times, but then it suddenly hit me that I was holding THE comic that it happened in, not a reprint or anything like that. It gave the story MUCH more gravity. I would high recommend each and every one of you to go out, RIGHT NOW, and buy an original copy. I'll wait. (whistling noises)

Reed was often tugging Sue along in those early days. Like she couldn't walk by herself, or didn't know how to run. And Reed was always a bit TOO protective. I always wanted Sue to say, "For fuck's sake, Reed! I can turn INVISIBLE and make a DAMN FORCE FIELD. I will be OKAY!"

Jesus CHRIST, Ben. Just... holy shit.

I just love this piece of art, so I'm throwing it in here. I think it's a nice visual that shows Ben's strength and Sue's allure. Hard to tell, here, that she could kick his ass if she wanted.

Wow. Sue is sporting some extremely NOT invisible booty in this statue. I think there should be one of Ben Grimm like this, too.

A couple more nice images of our favorite invisible gal, this time by Bruce Timm and Darwyn Cooke, two of the best in the business at drawing beautiful women who still seem human.

Well done, Cosplay Girl.

I like the "middle" versions of Sue and Reed the best. The versions where Sue had become a complete character with her own life and desires and demands, and Reed has become HUMAN... a caring man, rather than a brusque genius who cannot fathom human emotions. Any writer that can't give Reed humanity is a writer that's not doing his or her job. Sue and Reed are at their best when they're two people with powers who happen to be two people in love.

Sigh. Why do women so often fall for the hurt and bitter man? As far as Sue's attraction to the Sub-Mariner, I'm not fond of it. I LOVE his attraction to her, but not her spotty attraction to him. Sue loves Reed in my mind, and anything else just muddies up the rather focused person who she is. There is NO way that I could ever get behind the Sub-Mariner and Sue getting together, kissing. NO WAY. Never. Not going to happen.

Okay. I take that back.

THE “FAVORITE” LIST SO FAR

#25: Scarlet Witch

#24: Chance Falconer

#23: Vampirella

#22: Tigra

#21: Jean Grey

#20: Kitty Pryde

#19: Janet van Dyne

#18: Mary Jane Watson

#17: Hermione Granger

#16: Death

#15: Modesty Blaise

#14: Black Widow

#13: Sue Storm

——- DOWN BELOW IS JUST A REHASH OF WHY I’M DOING THIS LIST ———

I’ve been thinking about women, lately. Women characters in comics. Women creators in comics. Female characters in literature. And pretty girls riding around on bicycles or walking along the sidewalk, etc, etc. Because of this, I’ve decided to make An Entirely Useless List. Why is it entirely useless? Because it’s my top 25 female characters from comics and literature, and such lists change at whim and at a breakneck pace. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to quantify favorites… the term favorite is far too malleable. A list of my best friends from high school, for instance, would not include anyone with whom I’m currently in contact. Times change. Still… I’m making the list. Why? I suppose I just like thinking about women.

6 Comments

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6 Responses to Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 13: Sue Storm

  1. I agree 100%: the “Middle” Sue is tops. As is the “Middle” Reed. But then, somehow, the hand on that dial kept turning it past the optimum point. Sue (and Reed) are two characters that I can’t really settle into.

    It seems as though too many writers see Sue’s early characterization as a crime precipitated by sexist male writers that must be atoned, as opposed to a natural and inspirational part of her character arc. During her first months as The Invisible Girl she most certainly was a weak part of the team and rarely rose to the challenge. Now, she’s one of Earth’s premier heroes. Isn’t that progression — how she took responsibility for her early weaknesses and MADE herself what she is — more interesting than “She was a victim of Reed’s sexist treatment” or “The writers back then were kind of like cavemen but don’t worry…I won’t make that same mistake”?

    (I’d also point out that Reed was constantly coaching her and exploring ways to enhance her powers. I can’t get behind the “Reed is a ****” meme that took hold five or so years ago.)

    The “path” of the FF characters pre- and post-accident is part of what makes the title great. Reed himself was an dignified academic. Before the flight, he could be extremely effective by doing nothing other than performing theoretical research and publishing academic papers. He received powers that can only be used physically and ridiculously, which meant that he had to figure out how to change his instincts and be a guy who bounces into the thick of the action and starts swinging two enlarged fists shaped like maces. What was HIS process like?

    My other difficulty with Sue is “feature creep,” which has been discussed in earlier editions of FFCiL. She can turn invisible; she can make other things invisible; she can concentrate and erect force-objects that are highly-durable but not indestructible and which require her constant focus. Awesome. Lots to work with, there.

    But little by little, her powers became absurd. Sue puts a force field around an entire city. Sue trains and becomes the equal of one of Earth’s best, mystically-enhanced hand-to-hand combatants, and she fights using traditional martial-arts weapons (staffs, nunchuks, etc.) that she creates via force fields. The team needs to fly somewhere, so she creates a complete and fully-functional replica of a fighter jet with flaps, rudders, and variable wing geometry AND operational cockpit controls that Ben can use…

    Here’s where I throw in the towel. This version of Sue Storm just isn’t interesting. No character is of any interest without limitations. What are Sue’s limitations? In which scenario is Sue likely to be the weak link, either because her powers aren’t up to the task or because she’s likely to make worse mistakes than anybody else? Writers _seem_ to so be terrified of returning Sue to her sexist original definition that they don’t really make her human.

    (I often play that common game where I think about what kind of story I’d write with the character. With Sue, I keep coming back to how I’d like to write a story in which she lost decisively and we learned something interesting about her personality in the process. “Tigra could totally defeat Sue,” I think. “And here’s exactly how that would happen…”)

    Finally — for me, Sue isn’t the leader of the team. Like all great couples, she and Reed are far better together than they are as individuals. He has what she lacks, she sees what he doesn’t, etc.

    Just one opinion, o’course!

  2. Dean

    I’m currently reading Byrne’s run on FF, and his portrayal of Sue is one of the aspects of the run that I’m really enjoying. It’s a long step forward from her beginning as a Lee/Kirby era ‘stand at the back and point’ character.

  3. Paul Tobin

    You make a lot of really great points about character progression. I can definitely see it that way. And, yeah… I like that her powers have grown, but when she’s turning a bit godlike I think it nixes the humanity of her character, and the humanity of the Fantastic Four as well. I also agree that Reed isn’t an asshole. I think he’s a very caring individual, actually. I was in a long running argument about that with a friend, and she was adamant that Reed is a flat-out prick, but then I realized that she’d never read any FF comics except the ones during the time period where writers seemed to think that he hated human emotion, and that everything was a calculation. That’s not the Reed that I know / love. He’s a kind mind, and he’ll put down those test tubes when Sue snaps her fingers, not because she’s in charge, but because he loves her.

  4. Paul Tobin

    I was reading Byrne’s FF when it came out, and I remember being pretty ambivalent about it, but in retrospect I think he did a GREAT job. I thought he moved some of the characters forward, and Sue was definitely a big beneficiary. Plus, John’s art was, I think, superb. I wonder why I didn’t like it at the time? I must have been grumpy about something.

  5. Christos Gage put a great scene in the recent FF/Spider-Man limited series. Reed and Spidey are analyzing the alien symbiote costume when Sue bursts in; Reed forgot that they had plans to take Franklin to the park. After a few curt words to them both, she grabs Reed’s ear and walks out the door with it. Reed’s head is still in the lab. He apologizes to Peter, and acknowledges that spending time with his family takes precedence over time in the lab. He’s cut off by Sue, who impatiently calls out from the hallway: “I’m closing the elevator doors on your neck in 3…2…”

    That’s their relationship in a nutshell! Reed’s always turning off the Super Bowl with two minutes left to play and a tie score to spend time with Sue. Sue’s generous because (to a point) she accepts that losing track of time is just one of his quirks. Like many marriages, outsiders don’t understand how it works.

    From a story point of view, Reed and Sue’s healthy, stable, grownup marriage is like Uncle Ben’s death. It’s on a short list of concepts that a writer simply can’t mess with. I think it would indicate that the writer doesn’t understand these characters at all, and that maybe he or she is simply the wrong fit.

    I’d love to see a FF limited series which uses their relationship as the hub of the storytelling.

  6. Paul Tobin

    Gage is one of my favorite writers. He understands the humanity of the characters, as well as the heroism.

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